Government hears greetings industry concerns

GCA gets issues on radar as Thortful reveals £1m losses due to postal strikes

 

Getting greeting industry concerns over the Royal Mail strikes and bid to change its six-day delivery obligations on the government’s radar has moved forward thanks to GCA ceo Amanda Fergusson’s “really useful” meeting with the Department For Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy.

At the discussion yesterday, 15 December, BEIS’ assistant director for postal policy Linda Stephens confirmed “there are currently no plans to change the requirements of the postal service” with regard to the Royal Mail’s universal service obligation (USO), adding that the government is “listening to evidence”.

Above: Amanda on a previous Christmas visit to Royal Mail featured on the BBC
Above: Amanda on a previous Christmas visit to Royal Mail featured on the BBC

Amanda said: “I feel we are now, at last, getting on to the government’s radar. Linda took lots of notes and is keen for any stats we can share so it would be great if as many indie retailers as possible could take part in the latest Progressive Greetings Independent Retail Barometer so we have plenty of interesting ones to offer in the new year.”

The move comes as the GCA has been instrumental in keeping greetings – and Christmas cards in particular – in the media with Amanda’s appearance on BBC Radio 4’s You And Yours on Monday with Dandelion Stationery’s Jo Wilson, then LBC Radio on Wednesday, 14 December – and she’s set to speak with Alastair Stewart on the GB News TV channel’s live 1pm news show on Sunday, 18 December.

And it’s in the wake of online greetings retailer Thortful’s md Pip Haywood appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday saying it has lost “in the region of £1million” due to the strikes, at a rate of £30,000-£50,000 per day. She also stressed how the strikes had affected the income of the many artists and designers who rely on the money from when their cards are ordered from the Thortful marketplace.

What also has not helped is photos, apparently released to the media by the Communications Workers’ Union which is behind the industrial action, showing thousands of posted items piled up at depots and being gnawed by foxes and rates.

Above: Thortful md Pip Haywood revealed £1m losses
Above: Thortful md Pip Haywood revealed £1m losses

With Royal Mail having stated it wants the USO cut to exclude Saturdays as well as Sundays for letter delivery while keeping parcels as a seven-day operation, Amanda revealed: “Linda also confirmed that any changes to the USO will require further consultation, including assessment on the needs of the population taking into account the needs of those with protected characteristics, and then debate in Parliament.

“So, it’s some way off – but it’s now we need to be stating our case to mps so we do need to keep encouraging everyone in the greetings industry to back up the GCA’s position by writing to their mps pointing out these concerns.”

Linda had also asked how the industry was finding exporting to the EU since the Brexit changes came into force and Amanda explained the challenges for those exporting b2c in the EU due to the VAT challenges, and the fact that many have now stopped.

She added: “Linda said this is something the government is looking at now and she would, again, be very keen for any stats we could provide – the GCA council has taken this on board.”

Amanda followed up the meeting with a letter to Linda in which she pointed out Thortful’s losses and added: “As discussed, the ongoing impact of the Royal Mail strikes is having a massive impact on our industry during the Christmas peak period – research by one of our members found that 32% of people are changing their habits because of the strikes, with 17% likely to reduce their card buying.

Above: Mp Kevin Kevin Hollinrake confirms “no plans” to go to five-day letter deliveries
Above: Mp Kevin Kevin Hollinrake confirms “no plans” to go to five-day letter deliveries

“We are also extremely concerned that any move to drop Saturday delivery would impact our industry further. As discussed, the UK greeting card industry continues to thrive, we are a world-leading creative industry responsible for £1.7billion retail sales a year – £1.5bn single cards according to the GCA Annual Market Report, plus a conservative estimate for boxed and packs of cards – and the livelihoods of many.”

She also copied Linda in on the GCA’s previous letters Ofcom and Royal Mail, as well as to Kevin Hollinrake mp, parliamentary under-secretary of state for enterprise, markets and small business, outlining industry concerns about Royal Mail – to which he has replied via her local MP confirming there are “currently no plans” to change postal services.

And at the monthly Indie Retail (Independent Retailers’ Confederation) meeting on Tuesday, 13 December, Amanda raised the issues with other associations agreeing to ask their members for feedback, to put on the agenda for January’s meeting with Adam Terry mp, Labour head of policy development.

Above: The GCA’s letters to Ofcom and Royal Mail
Above: The GCA’s letters to Ofcom and Royal Mail

The National Federation Of Sub-Postmasters has supported the GCA’s position, stating: “The strikes and the possible five-day deliveries hugely impact our members as it means less footfall at a time many are struggling to stay afloat. Already with the opening of the parcels market, postmasters have seen a reduction in their income due to the competition, so the possibility of the letters market now being restricted is a huge concern”.

Thortful’s Pip Haywood commented: “Christmas trading has been hugely hit. We can see dramatic drops in trade on the days where we’ve had to advise customers of the extended delivery windows – we’ve seen Thortful customer inquiries triple.

“Luckily our customers know how reliable we usually are, but delivery reliability is so much worse than even during Covid now. It means we’ve had to staff up to protect our customers so it’s not just hitting revenue, it’s adding cost and also causing brand damage.”

Top: GCA ceo Amanda Fergusson (centre) at Westminster for October’s Genesis Senate, and mp Kevin Hollinrake’s response

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